Maps

The Pursuit - 17th to the 27th August

 

Although the 6th Airborne Division was across the canal, the high-ground to the north and south of Dozulé was still in enemy hands and being used most effectively to harass the British with targeted shellfire. To enable the Division to move forward, Major-General Gale decided that these areas had to be taken and the honours fell to the two Commando brigades. The 1st Special Service Brigade were charged with capturing the two hills around Brucourt, to the north-west of Dozulé, whilst the 4th Special Service Brigade dealt with the high ground to the south. Both of their attacks were a success and delivered with great cunning.

 

Brigadier Mills-Roberts, the commander of the 1st Special Service Brigade, devised a brilliantly shrewd manoeuvre to capture the hills around Brucourt, three miles to the north of Putot-en-Auge. Not wishing to expose his men to the casualties that they would suffer in a typical daylight charge up the hill, he decided to slip the entire Brigade through the German lines during the night, so that by daylight the hill would be firmly in their hands without much of a struggle. It was an extremely bold strategy, because moving one thousand five hundred men across country by night would inevitably lead to many being lost as they accidentally strayed from the path, even superbly trained troops can easily make a wrong turning in complete darkness. To ensure that no one was lost, Brigadier Mills-Roberts obtained a three-mile length of four-inch wide white tape, which the leading troops would use to lay a trail for the rest of the Brigade to follow.

 

The idea was not so far-fetched as it may have appeared. At no point during the fighting in Normandy had either side been confronted with a continuous defensive line, instead pockets of resistance were concentrated at road junctions and other key positions, whilst in between these lay only isolated outposts and patrols. It had been observed that the German tendency at night was to draw their defences in around these key positions, leaving the intervening terrain relatively open. Even so, it would take the greatest skill for a large force to successfully thread their way through the remaining outposts.

 

No.3 Commando led the Brigade forward, followed by Nos.4 and 45 with No.6 Commando in the rear. They crossed from the Island via the partially destroyed railway bridge, thereafter they moved eastwards alongside the railway line, using it as a guide to set them on their way. By this time the Germans had figured out that something was happening because they proceeded to heavily shell the road that ran parallel to the railway line, just 70 yards from the Commandos. The importance of the railway line, however, was overlooked by the gunners and so the Commandos were able to proceed without casualties. They pushed on eastwards until they reached the point where the railway line branches away to the north and the south, and here they crossed the line and proceeded across country.

 

No.3 Commando, in the lead, sent out patrols in front of the advancing column, which was over a mile in length, to probe and discover paths through the German lines. Two pill-box positions blocked the way. A patrol dealt with one of them, silently dispatching the two sentries with knives and taking prisoner the remaining soldiers, all of whom were asleep. The other position did not directly overlook the Brigade's path and so did not warrant such action, however it was surrounded and watched closely so that it could be immediately taken out if any of the sentries became suspicious.

 

Moving up to the base of the hill and confronted with a road to cross, the Commandos dug up strips of turf and laid them across the road so that their boots made no sound as they crossed over. Although it was still dark at this time, there were signs that daylight was not far away and so the Commandos, now through the outer defences, pushed on up the hill at speed. No.3 Commando led the Brigade up on to the main hill whilst No.4 Commando separated from the column to move towards another hill to their right.